#28daysofwriting Day 28 Reflecting on a month of writing

Meme with a picture of hot chocolate and marshmallowsSo it is the final day of Tom Barrett‘s challenge.  I am not sure whether, for me, it has been a challenge I have succeeded in.  Certainly, in terms of writing 28 minutes every day for 28 days, i have not been successful.  I missed out days, I doubled up on days, and I often spent more than 28 minutes writing.

I teach English.  I am a very new teacher of English. This is my second year teaching English to Year 9 students after teaching French and Spanish for over 25 years.  I still teach Spanish.  For some reason, the fact that I speak English, means that I am qualified to teach it.  I have had a very steep learning curve and have spent many evenings and holidays researching how to teach English, how to teach students how to analyse a film or a piece of poetry or a novel, or how to write an essay and give a speech and how to create the wonderful artefacts that are “Static Images”.

One of the things that is always suggested to develop students’ writing skills is to write something every day.  We are encouraged to get the students to keep a journal and write for a short time every lesson.  The problem then is, how do I assess that?  How do I find time to read 30 pieces of writing every day and give feedback?  Anyway, I tried.  I asked them to write for ten minutes each lesson.  “What about?” they asked.  “Anything,” I said.  “But we can’t think of what to write about,” they said.  “It doesn’t matter,” I replied.  And they sat, and sat.  Some wrote frantically, scribbling madly to get their ideas down on the paper.  Some wrote bland descriptions of their day; what time they got up, what they ate for breakfast, what they watched on the TV.  Some wrote complete nonsense and some, well, they wrote nothing.

I didn’t find the exercise a very positive one, and most of my students didn’t either.  So I abandoned it and looked for different strategies to encourage writing.  One thing I came across when I googled “encouraging writing” was the idea of Story Bursts.  These entail writing from a visual or written prompt and rather than limiting the students to ten minutes (which those with ideas found frustrating and those with no ideas found an eternity) I let them have all lesson if they wanted.  I also allowed them to write in any form they wanted – they could create memes, write haiku, poems or stories. Different activities were available for those who finished earlier such as reading each other’s stories and commenting on them, reading their chosen book or article, or “Fast Finisher” games such as Boggle, Scrabble or Pictionary.

We would have a lesson like this once every month or so and it also became a “Fast Finisher” for those who enjoyed writing.  My girls rose to the challenge and although some still struggled with ideas, having a starting point helped get them on their way.  They even started bringing in their own prompts!

So what has this to do with #28daysofwriting?  I think I have understood more fully the difficulties some of my learners had in terms of getting started, thinking of a topic and maintaining a time limitation.  Some days the idea of my blog was clear, on others I really had to search for it.  When I was tired, it was hard to write coherently (I am not sure I always did!)  There were times when the subject about which I was writing was so absorbing that I ran way over my allocated 28 minutes.  But I have also had to push myself and found that sometimes the imperative of fulfilling a challenge actually focusses you to do it and if that imperative isn’t there, then it is much easier to give up.  I have also learned that it may sometimes be better to not write at all than to write a load of rubbish!  So, I apologise for any of my posts that seemed rambly and pointless, but I think they have all been part of my writing journey.  Thank you, Tom Barrett for putting out the challenge.

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